One of the decisions that prospective parents must make before their baby is born is whether to store the baby’s cord blood for any emerging health reasons in years to come.
“Birth is a one-time opportunity to help your own family by saving your child’s cord blood in a private bank,” according to the Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation.
Some patients store blood for unforeseen health issues with the child in the future, while others are deciding to bank their baby’s cord blood if there is a family history of blood disorders or cancers. Many donate to public cord blood banks, where the blood is collected for later use by anyone who needs it. There are few of these banks, and arrangements must be made in advance to donate the cord blood.
If patients are interested in banking their babies’ cord blood, Westmed OB/GYNs will provide them with literature from the companies that store it. “From that point, the process is primarily between the company and the couple,” said Joshua Waldman, Westmed OB/GYN. The companies send the family a collection kit that is given to the provider delivering the baby. After collection, the family calls to have the kit picked up for processing and storage.
Some of the companies that store the cord blood and provide the kits are CBR (Cord Blood Registry), LifebankUSA, ViaCord and Maze, among others.
Dr. Waldman said, “There are no risks to cord blood banking, but it is expensive and not covered by insurance. Its worth remains controversial, but it may have great potential for treatment of childhood and adult cancers, and also perhaps diabetes and Alzheimers.” It is important to remember that cord banking is most likely only to benefit the birth-child from the banking, and it should not be considered an effective option for assisting siblings in the future.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists patient information website)
What is Cord Blood?
Cord blood is blood from the baby that is left in the umbilical cord and placenta after birth. Cord blood contains stem cells that may be frozen for later use to treat some diseases.
How is cord blood collected and banked?
Cord blood is collected by your health care provider or the staff at the hospital where you give birth. Cord blood collection does not cause harm or pain to either the mother or the baby. Blood is drawn from the umbilical cord after the baby is delivered, and the cord is clamped. The median size of cord blood collections in family banks is 60 mL or 2 ounces.
The stem cells in cord blood remain viable for a couple of days at room temperature, providing sufficient time for the blood to be shipped to a laboratory in another city or state. At the laboratory, the cells are processed and cryogenically frozen. Once frozen, stem cells remain viable for decades.
How are cord blood stem cells used?
Blood-forming stem cells in cord blood can be used to treat some types of illnesses, such as disorders of the blood, immune system or metabolism. They are also used to offset the effects of cancer treatments on the immune system.
Using cord blood to treat disease has some advantages over using bone marrow. It is harder to collect bone marrow than stem cells.
How is cord blood banked?
Cord blood is kept in two types of banks: a public bank, where the parents donate the cord blood to society, and a family bank, where the family owns the cord blood.
How to private cord blood banks operate?
Private banks store cord blood for “directed” donation. The blood is held for use in treating your baby or relatives. Private banks most often charge a yearly fee for storage. There also will be a fee for collecting the cord blood.
How do public cord blood banks operate?
Public cord blood banks operate like blood banks. Cord blood is collected for later use by anyone who needs it. The stem cells in the donated cord blood can be used by any person who “matches”. The cord blood is tracked in a database so that a unit can be found quickly when needed. Public banks do not charge to collect cord blood.
Donors to public banks must be screened before birth. Screening entails taking a detailed medical history of the mother and father and their families. The goal is to learn of any blood or immune system disorders or other problems. Donors are also asked about their lifestyles. Many people will not meet these screening standards.
What are the limits to stem cell use?
Only a few diseases can be treated with stem cells, so they are not a miracle cure. Some other limitations are:
- If a baby is born with a genetic disease, the stem cells from the cord blood cannot be used for treatment. They will have the same genes that cause the disorder.
- A child’s stem cells cannot be used to treat that child’s leukemia, cancer of the blood. But stem cells from a healthy child can be used like any other donated organ to treat another child’s leukemia. The recipient and donor are carefully matched to make sure the stem cells will work.
If you have further questions about cord blood banking, contact your Westmed obstetrician-gynecologist. His/her contact information can be found here.